Local school districts are concerned about the mental health of students as the pandemic continues. “This time has called for us to really relook at how we provide services to families,” said Lateshia Woodley, executive director of student support services for Kansas City Public Schools.
Even before the pandemic, mental illness and suicide in young people was on the rise, “The Missouri Independent” reported.” The three-year-average suicide rate in young people ages 10 to 24 increased by more than 60 percent in both Missouri and Kansas between 2007-2009 and 2016-2018, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Missouri’s rate increase was the fourth-highest in the nation.
Some factors leading to suicide, such as isolation, have increased during the pandemic, according to Alexandria Wagner, manager of community-based clinical services at PACES, part of the Wyandot Behavioral Health Network. PACES provides mental health services for children and teenagers, and is the safety net clinic for Wyandotte County.
“In the beginning, it was almost a fun step away from school, but the isolation is really starting to catch up to these young people,” Wagner said.
In Missouri, all school districts are required to have a suicide awareness and prevention plan and in Kansas, all school district staff are required to undergo suicide prevention training. But schools didn’t create these plans with a pandemic in mind. Woodley said the Kansas City school district moved to implement telehealth and virtual tools to help screen students and provide services to them.
Kansas City provides laptops to all of its students and is using software that monitors their Google searches. The software, called Relay, gives mental health professionals at the school district an alert if a student searches anything related to topics such as depression, self-harm or suicide. “We have seen a rise in the numbers of students that are searching things like death and violence over the course of this pandemic,” Woodley said.
The district also started a phone hotline program for families to directly contact clinicians and schedule counseling sessions if they have concerns about the mental health of students in their family. Each school has its own hotline.
5 tips to improve your child’s mental health
To help your student deal with mood swings and depression brought on by continuing virtual learning and a disrupted in-person learning schedule Melissa Santos PhD has these tips:
- Help your student eat right.
- Keep moving. Winter can make even kids sluggish.
- Watch your sleep. Covid and lockdowns have disrupted sleep schedules.
- Get more sunlight. On sunny days, get outside if it’s not too cold. The benefits outweight the risks.
- Since darkness and cold weather can easily impact mood, it’s important to be proactive in wintertime about building mood-boosters into your child’s day. When in doubt, have your child create a “mood jar”: Fill a jar with written reminders of things that always give their mood a lift – an activity, a memory, whatever. Go to the jar when they need a mood boost!
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice